Changed traffic speed limits on the Oxley Highway have created confusion for local drivers and infuriated regular users of the famed Walcha Mountain climb.
Widely acknowledged as one of Australia’s best climbs, the 160 kilometres of highway from Wauchope to Walcha is a draw for motorcycle enthusiasts the year round.
Posts on social media sites have been devastating in their analysis of the decision while several petitions have also sprung up opposing the move.
The Centre for Road Safety and Roads and Maritime Services carried out a route safety review of the highway in November 2013. That review included a meeting in Wauchope at the country club.
The findings of the review led to a raft of recommendations including, improve linemarking practices and road alignment, review speed zones and their lengths and review mobile phone coverage to facilitate improved post crash response times.
The review covered issues including, fatal and injury crashes, road safety engineering issues, current speed limits and speed zones, driver behaviour issues such as speeding; drink driving; and driver fatigue and heavy vehicle issues.
The Oxley Highway Safety Review says the recommendations ‘focus on an integrated approach to improving road safety along the length of the highway’.
But the speed limit changes have caused confusion with drivers particularly with the speed reduction to 50 kilometres an hour from the Beechwood Road intersection travelling west.
Also causing concern is the decision to reduce the 80km/h limit travelling west from Wauchope to the Byabarra turn-off – a distance of 10 kilometres.
The Long Flat bends go from a 100km zone to a 60km zone.
As one regular user pointed out: “That’s just added 40 minutes to my working day.”
The changes are:
Speed zone changes implemented
- Reduced from 60km/h to 50km/h on a 2.5 kilometre section of the highway, west of Beechwood Road to the Wauchope cemetery
- Reduced from 100km/h to 80km/h on a three kilometre section of the highway, west of Bagnoo Road to Long Flat village
- Reduced from 60km/h to 50km/h through Long Flat village.
Speed zone changes in coming months
- John Oxley Drive and Wrights Road: Increase from 90km/h to 100km/h between Wrights Road and John Oxley Drive (western occurrence). This will be implemented following the completion of road upgrade work on this section expected late this year.
- Long Flat to Walcha: Mountain section - reduce from 100km/h to 70km/h for 27km; Next section - reduce from 100km/h to 80km/h for 4km; Reduce from 100km/h to 80km/h for 8.3km starting 75km east of Walcha township.
- Walcha: Reduce from 110km/h to 100km/h for 2km starting east of Hartford Road to west of Hartford Road. This is a transition zone leading into Walcha township.
- Gunnedah: Reduced from 80km/h to 50km/h for about 700 metres west of Alford Street on the Oxley Highway.
Data contained in the review indicates that just over half of all casualty crashes – 51 per cent – and all but one of the fatal crashes, occurred in 90km/h or higher speed zones while almost three quarters – 74 per cent – occurred away from intersections.
Almost half of the casualty crashes occurred on curves, the review found.
The report also states that, over the five year period (casualty crashes 2008-2012 and fatal crashes 2013) there have been 327 casualty crashes resulting in 18 fatalities and 401 injuries.
“The majority of drivers and riders involved in casualty crashes are local residents (living in local government areas adjoining the Oxley Highway),” the report states.
“Fifty three per cent of fatal crashes (2008-2013) occurred between Tamworth and Gunnedah (which is only 16 per cent of the full length of the Oxley Highway). This section also has an extremely high crash rate per kilometres travelled.
“All but one of the fatal crashes occurred in 90km or higher speed zones while forty six per cent of all casualty crashes involved single vehicles running off road.
“The percentage of casualty crashes on the Oxley Highway involving motorcycles is double that of other country roads (30 per cent v 14 per cent) of which 56 per cent were locals.
“Over 60 per cent of casualty crashes between Wauchope and Yarrowitch involved motorcyclists,” the report says.
Meanwhile a change.org petition kick-started by Wauchope resident Ken Healey is underway.
It has almost 3000 signatories.
Oxley MP Melinda Pavey was contacted for comment.